Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Sarah Huckabee Sanders deserves a seat at a table but not at my table

Yesterday, I made a case for Why we should keep partisan politics out of restaurants. This morning I feature excerpts from two opinion writers, one basically agreeing that Sanders’ behavior as press secretary is reprehensible, that she serves as the mouthpiece of a president who lies about anything and everything. But does that disqualify her from having a place at a restaurant table? The other view is that a restaurant is a public place and should serve patrons regardless of disparate political beliefs. At the outset, let me explain that I agree with both positions.

Sometimes I watch the noon press briefing. Most times I cannot make it to the end and have to shut off the tube. Sanders’ performance is a revolting melange of attacks on her audience, the press, and a vomitous summary of Trump’s lies. She deserves the contempt of any sentient being. Ifs she knows she is repeating lies, she deserves our disrespect. If she does not know what she says are lies, she, in her ignorance, deserves our grudging pity. Either way I grant her nothing more than my disgust.

I would not let that woman, or her dishonest boss for that matter, into my house. But my house is a private residence. The Red Hen is a public place. By virtue of opening a restaurant, I think, the proprietor promises to serve those who comport themselves well with civility. Then the proprietor is obliged to provide equal access to the goods and services offered by the restaurant. This reasoning is elaborated in my post yesterday On ‘eating out’.

Here are differing views, not of Sanders the purveyor of Trump’s dishonesty, but of whether Sanders deserved service in the Virginia restaurant.

Why Sanders’ day job does not get respect for her at night

Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker, considers Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Who Deserves a Place at the Table. Here’s Gopnik’s conclusion.

… someone who has decided to make it her public role to extend, with a blizzard of falsehoods, the words of a pathological liar, and to support, with pretended piety, the acts of a public person of unparalleled personal cruelty—well, that person has asked us in advance to exclude her from our common meal. You cannot spit in the plates and then demand your dinner. The best way to receive civility at night is to not assault it all day long. …

And here’s more of his reasoning.

This double act (for Sanders left when she was asked to) has caused a small but very significant ruckus: many have sided with the Red Hen on the grounds that, on this week in particular, a week which featured the Trumpites’ cruellest organized exclusion of others to date, to not exclude one of the organizers, or at least the mouthpiece, of that exclusion would amount to a moral failure. On the other side is an argument, not in every case touched by obvious hypocrisy, that the Red Henites, by denying their own rules of pluralism to Sanders and her party, are engaged in an act of incivility just as wrong as the kinds the Trumpites began, albeit on a smaller scale. Should we not let Sanders and the rest of the Trumpite commissariat eat in peace? Are we not in turn offended when Christian bakers refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings? And when the wheel turns—if it is, God or Washington willing, allowed to keep turning—would the same Red Henites now not look with disgust at a pro-Trump tavernkeeper who excludes, on similar partisan grounds, the gay spokesperson for our first female President or the female spokesperson for our first gay President?

Well, grownups should be able to count to two, a fine French idiom insists, and this is a case in which counting to two is essential. To sit and share or to shame and shun? On the issue of Sanders being expelled from a restaurant, mixed emotions are the only ones a rational person can have. On the one hand, one of the ritual functions of restaurants is to make a common place for commonplace civilization to proceed. They build social capital from their openness to all kinds. Think of how much the civilization of American cities depends on our being able to grab not just bite but a bit of anonymity—we eat alongside others without the others looking down too sharply upon us. It’s a fundamental liberal value, worth protecting in all partisan instances and on all partisan sides. And, no, we don’t want to set a precedent in which politics are so personalized that even simple common coexistence becomes impossible. As a moral duty, we should share the pleasures and conversation of the table with as many people of as many views as we can—and, even when we can’t, we shouldn’t grumble too nastily under our breath at our kids when someone at a nearby table takes up the case for the Donald. (A self-directed moral rule, this.)

On the other hand, the Trump Administration is not a normal Presidential Administration. This is the essential and easily fudged fact of our historical moment. The Trump Administration is—in ways that are specific to incipient tyrannies—all about an assault on civility. To the degree that Trump has any ideology at all, it’s a hatred of civility—a belief that the normal decencies painfully evolved over centuries are signs of weakness which occlude the natural order of domination and submission. It’s why Trump admires dictators. Theirs are his values; that’s his feast. And, to end the normal discourse of democracy, the Trump Administration must make lies respectable—lying not tactically but all the time about everything, in a way that does not just degrade but destroys exactly the common table of democratic debate.

That’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s chosen role in life—to further those lies, treat lies as truth, and make lies acceptable. This is not just a question of protesting a particular policy; in the end there are no policies, only the infantile impulses of a man veering from one urge to another. The great threat to American democracy isn’t “policy” but the pretense of normalcy. That’s the danger, for with the lies come the appeasement of tyranny, the admiration of tyranny, and, as now seems increasingly likely, the secret alliance with tyranny. That’s what makes the Trump Administration intolerable, and, inasmuch as it is intolerable, public shaming and shunning of those who take part in it seems just. Never before in American politics has there been so plausible a reason for exclusion from the common meal as the act of working for Donald Trump.

And what about civility? Well, fundamental to, and governing the practice of, civility is the principle of reciprocity: your place at my table implies my place at yours. Conservatives and liberals, right-wingers and left-wingers, Jews and Muslims and Christians and Socialists and round- and flat-Earthers—all should have a place at any table and be welcome to sit where they like. On the other hand, someone who has decided to make it her public role to extend, with a blizzard of falsehoods, the words of a pathological liar, and to support, with pretended piety, the acts of a public person of unparalleled personal cruelty—well, that person has asked us in advance to exclude her from our common meal. You cannot spit in the plates and then demand your dinner. The best way to receive civility at night is to not assault it all day long. It’s the simple wisdom of the table.

Sanders deserved the comfort of a meal in a public restaurant

Karen Klein, writing in The Sacramento Bee (published in the Daily Star this morning) explains Why Sarah Sanders shouldn’t have been kicked out of that Virginia restaurant. Here’s Klein’s conclusion.

In the public spaces of life, there should still be room for us all to sit and have the comfort of a meal or a night’s shelter. Let’s not allow the extreme and ugly days of Trump to take that away from us, too.

Here is some of the rest of Klein’s reasoning.

Over the years, but especially in 2008, the year of hateful Proposition 8, I wrote regularly about LGBT rights. I cheered the California Supreme Court decision that opened the door to same-sex marriage. I wrote about the unfair standards to which gay and lesbian couples were being held, about the judgmentalism involved in deciding who was entitled to the basic right to marriage.

Fortunately for me, I’m not a household name and certainly not a household face. But if I were, I would have been stunned and horrified to be turned away from a restaurant where the owner’s viewpoints differed from mine.

… I find myself in the strange position of standing up for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, despite her limp attempts as White House spokeswoman to make the Trump administration seem like anything higher than hateful slime that is taking apart our nation’s protections and humanity faster than I could have believed possible. Sanders was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant because the employees and owner find her actions fronting for the administration sickening.

And sickening they are. I wouldn’t let the woman or her boss into my home. I would gag at the thought of serving her and would hate having her in the same dining room where I’m a customer.

But that’s not the same as the general feeling among Trump-haters these days after Sanders was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant. The sense seems to be that the restaurant owner took the moral high ground by advising Sanders that she wasn’t welcome.

The decision to open a restaurant is a decision to welcome the public. It’s the kind of service to which we all should be at least accepted, if not warmly welcomed, whether we are gay or Muslim or pro-abortion or anti-abortion or even if we are, like Sanders, simply vile, unless we behave in ways that are disruptive to the business. That extends to hotels, retail stores and other public-serving businesses.

Virginia law does not protect patrons of public accommodations based on their sexual orientation or their political affiliations. (California laws are much more protective.) This isn’t about slicing and dicing the laws of different states to figure out who had their civil liberties curtailed.

It’s about the kind of nation we are becoming – the kind of nation that, in fact, Sanders and Donald Trump and various other cockroaches within the administration are encouraging us to become through inhumane policy and hateful comments.

When Sanders wants to buy underpants, she should be allowed to, even if the owner of the lingerie shop hates everything about her. A gay couple should be able to check into any hotel. The head of Planned Parenthood should be able to order dinner in a restaurant where the owner feels that abortion amounts to the horrific killing of innocent babies.

We may dislike or even revile certain people because of their beliefs or actions. We are discomfited by their presence. We’re big boys and girls. We can handle some discomfort.

So here is where I come down on all this. In a public restaurant, like the rest of us and regardless of our sexual orientation or political beliefs, Sanders deserves a seat at a table. But she is not entitled to a seat at my table.

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